About a month ago, we started making Hudson's birthday party invitation list for his dump truck themed party. He decided his four cousins would be invited, his grandparents, then he rattled off names of friends he hoped can make it (including three of our babysitters).
Then I asked if he wanted to invite anyone from preschool.
"My friend Michael!" he yelled, excitedly.
Of course. He's talked about Michael pretty regularly since school began in August.
There are only about 15 kids in his class and I remembered a few faces from the open house. But when it came to names I had no idea. Who is Michael?
I know one child is in a wheelchair... would my husband need to put some sort of ramp in so Michael could come? We also needed to know who it was so we could begin a conversation with the boy’s parents.
I put on my investigative reporter hat and started asking questions.
"Does Michael play with you?" I quizzed my 3 year old.
"Oh yes," Hudson gushed. "We play cars and trucks, and at the rice table."
"Does he play with you on the floor or sitting at a table?" I cautiously continued.
"On the floor," Hudson said.
"Ok," I replied, remembering from the open house the child in the wheelchair is probably unable to play on the floor because of the severity of his condition. "Does Michael look like you?"
Without missing a beat, my little guy touched the top of his head and thoughtfully said, "Well, his hair is a different color."
The next day, I had my husband scope out the kids in the drop off and pick up lines. I told him what kind of car I thought Michael’s mom drove. He sent me a text message: I asked Hudson about the kid who got out of that car. Nope, not Michael.”
Hmmmm... I replied, deciding to sit on it a few days.
Later that week, my husband asked one of the teachers, “Who is Michael? Hudson talks about him all the time.”
“Oh,” she laughed, pointing to one of the school buses parked on the curb. “He rides the bus. Michael and Hudson are like frick and frack.”
My sleuth husband relayed his findings in a text message.
Frick and frack? I wrote back. Is that a good thing? Or a bad one?
At least the bus information helped narrow it down… only a handful of children in Hudson’s class ride the bus. But getting to this point with periodic questioning from Hudson and finally a conversation with a teacher had taken two weeks. If the boy rode the bus, I needed to somehow speak with his mom.
So I emailed the on-site preschool director:
Hudson has a birthday coming up (Nov. 11) and I have a couple questions.
He talks NON STOP about Michael... sounds like they are pretty good little buddies! Hudson wants to invite Michael to his birthday party at our home. Is it OK if I send the invite in Hudson's folder next week so it can be sent home with Michael? I won't tell Hudson it's in there (so that way we don't have hurt feelings in the class) but since Michael rides the bus there isn't an opportunity for me to give it to one of his parents. Is that doable?
She replied, asking me to call her.
When I did, she nicely explained that they can’t do birthday invitations like that unless the entire class is invited because they don’t want anyone to have hurt feelings.
The snark in me wanted to ask if everyone gets a trophy on the last day too… but she was being very nice and helpful, so instead I asked if she could contact Michael’s mom for permission to give me her address so we could send the invite in the mail.
“Kelli,” she said, “Michael is a twin. So it might be kind of tricky if you’re inviting him and not his brother.”
My heart skipped a beat. My brain flashed back to the open house. The only set of twins I remembered were two African American boys. Hudson spoke to them but we were only there 15 minutes and I haven’t been back into the classroom since to see his interactions with any of the children.
“Is there only one set of twins in the class?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Then I told her the story of how Hudson described Michael to me… only saying, ‘His hair is different from mine.’
“I’m not at all surprised,” the director said. “We really work with the kids about finding what makes them similar to each other rather than focusing on their differences. Hudson excels at that.”
Tears welled in my eyes. I felt incredibly proud of my little boy.
As soon as I hung up, I called my husband at work and happily told him the story.
“Do you get what this means!?” I asked. “Hudson didn’t even know or care about the color of Michael’s skin. He didn’t even notice it!”
“That’s awesome,” my husband said. “Really feels good.”
It feels amazing.
In a world where race, religion, skin color, gender, sexual orientation and so many other incidentals define people and create ridiculous hatred, my little boy simply didn’t see it.
He saw Michael as another little boy who goes to preschool just like him, has a backpack just like him, loves to play with cars and trucks just like he does. He saw a friend.
I remember the day Hudson was born. Four years ago today. I cradled him in my hospital bed, wanting him to be kind and gentle, friendly, compassionate, tough, accepting and brave. But I remember it being so overwhelming. How do you teach a child those things? How do you guide them toward acceptance without preaching it day in and day out?
A lot of my ‘ideas’ about that have come from other moms.
Last year a friend at work shared an activity with me that she does with her children… buying brown eggs and white eggs, having the discussion about how they both come from chickens, then cracking them open at the same time to discover they are exactly the same on the inside. I stole that idea and do it with my boys from time to time.
Thanks to the tip from the preschool director, I also try to point out similarities when we’re at the playground – ‘See Hudson, that little girl is here with her mommy, just like you! Did you ask if she wants to play with you?’
Or the library, which is somewhat diverse in our area - ‘That little boy loves to play trains, just like you do! Did you ask his name?’
I also got a great idea from my friend Courtney, who has a daughter born with a rare skin disorder. Read her incredible blog post here about how she wishes parents and other children would react when they see her daughter Brenna at the grocery store or the park. It’s GENIUS. And we’ve been doing this with both boys whenever we get the chance.
It’s funny though… how lessons we try to teach our kids often come full circle. I suddenly find myself looking for similarities between myself and others rather than focusing on our differences. And you know what? WOW. Talk about a lesson in life.
When I consciously work to do this, I feel more accepting, more compassionate and more understanding. And I feel good.
It’s also opened a window for me to see what other lessons I can learn from my children and in which ways I should try to be more like them (if only tantrums were socially acceptable… right?).
In all seriousness, on this day… when I celebrate the birth of my first child, I’m not sad because my baby is suddenly so big. I’m instead amazed and incredibly proud of the sweet little boy who is already teaching me so much more than I ever expected a four year old could.
My husband and I know there will be questions from our kids in the future - about differences between them and their friends, why so-and-so has two mommies or something else we didn't realize they would even think to question. We'll figure out how to answer those when they pop up. Isn't winging it so much of what parenting is about anyway?
Oh, and in case you’re wondering… my investigative reporter skills came to the rescue, eventually helping me track down Michael’s mom. She let me know their family already has a commitment the day of Hudson’s party. But I plan to invite him and his brother over for a play date very soon.
I'm a mom to 3 beautiful, spirited, tiny humans, I'm addicted to running + barre, I have no filter & I work full time in the corporate world. But behind the scenes of all that is where it really gets interesting...